thumbnail of Seminars in theatre; Episode 25 of 31
Hide -
If this transcript has significant errors that should be corrected, let us know, so we can add it to FIX IT+
This is seminars in theatre a series of discussions with leading members of the theatrical profession who comment on the problems and pleasures of life in the theatre. Here now is the host of seminars and theatre Richard Pyatt. Good evening and welcome to another seminars and later this evening's program deviates a bit from its regular format. I would say probably in two distinct ways. One functional way is we have one guest and we were to have a second guest and the other is that the singular guest is Ted Mann co-founder of the circle in the Square Theater who is going to talk about his current production if in Alice or. Some would have it if again in Alice and we might find out what the reason for that is. As an aside a little later but the distinct aspect of tonight's format is that Ted
Mann will not only talk about the current production but future plans for circle in the square. Theater movement which he co-founded quite a few years ago and we might also talk about some of the musical activities that Ted Mann in conjunction with his associates are responsible for every year and sometimes throughout the year here in New York City all to the benefit of New Yorkers and music lovers. Also we'll be talking about in spite of the rave reviews of the list the facets of it that keep it from being what it should be and makes it less than what it is. First of all we should say Ted that. Relatively speaking in the New York area the dearth of good theater makes if it you know I was number one. Worth the effort on on just about any
level. And of course a production at Circle in a square would never be less than good. But what I first want to ask you is was the foremost success of the Trojan Women which you produced had circles where one of the motivations that led you to do the current production. Well it was I don't know if you know how I am I don't know if you are aware that at the time that I did the Trojan Women there was a lot of criticism and sort of happy anticipation. People feeling that it would in theatre that it probably would not undoubtedly would not be a success because it had an old Cherokee side set and so on. But when I read it having not been exposed to it since high school I was bowled over by the beauty of the language and the emotional situation in the
Trojan Women. Similarly when I read when Mr cocky I was and I were thinking of doing a play. Again. Naturally my primary thoughts turn to the to a Greek play. I feel that Mr cocking outness is eminently suited to direct Greek plays. And in searching for the player we had the additional delicious problem of Irene pap as I had expressed a desire to play at the circle who had come down to see a performance of a. And she loved the theatre. She felt that to be so close to an audience was like performing for motion pictures. Performing for the studio person now in motion picture work. And this is what she has primarily done. So when I saw her after the ill fated Frank Gilroy play that summer that for which she
played the. Federal character in contemporary. Terms. I felt that she. Had never seen or of course on the stage and only seen her in a few films. I felt there was a tremendous animal that given the proper part that she would make a tremendous impact on something that we have not seen here in the theater in a long time. And he's my favorite author. This is a long answer to your brief question why did you not have a business. It cannot be simple at any rate. I then began to read all of the repartees because I feel that he is to me the Greek writer that makes the greatest emotional contact for us. And effort in all of us.
Had the bye you reprise had the advantage for me as a producer No one must think in terms of commercial reality when one produces plays of never having been produced in this country at all. Secondly it have it being considered by Victorian critics as the worst play by repartees. And and yet to my mind it was a beautiful play had great significance because it involves a struggle for power and it involves a war the Trojan War that the Greeks were involved in. And it had a great part for this purpose. Well it's going to clearly a successful libretto as the towers has been overwhelming success with the opera and it would be natural I think Ted for you to like you. Over there a startle
or Sophocles I mean Europe is being somewhat to the average guard playwright of his day. Not that you should be but you are sort of the Vanguard theatre of the village some 13 15 years ago at least in 18 18 years time in our culture. And if it is say in his day represented a departure from the traditional playwrights the same as Young Playwrights today who are trying something to do something new different represent a departure from. So it's interesting. I mean he in this mystery he read that he's as Avalon guy he wrote this play when he was 80. Well that. That is interesting isn't it when you think about that. And of course it had to do with the there was a war on in Greece that had been going on for
twenty seven years. Probably the Cold War too. In conjunction with the military war but specifically a military war that he felt he felt and his history later proved sapped the strength of Greece and was in fact the beginning of its destruction. And his plays were very much concerned especially in his later life with the forces that encourage war and what it is that drives people to war. And what the effects on human beings are. Let's say he's had a good life. Has it is lasted for quite some time. We're confronted with another situation that in as much as I would say we among our listeners we have a number of acting students college students and literature students and interested public. And the disturbing element here Ted is not directed at Circle in the square but it's directed at the fact that the
critics to whom the public follows somewhat sleep usually in deciding what they like or what is good or not good gives rave reviews to a number of plays. With almost indiscriminately and when they pan a play they seem to generalize and not be specific. In the case of an item. The critics certainly took you to its bosom and they praised the production. They praised Irene Pappas who by the way one of the great just did deviate one second from this line of thought. I think one of the greatest promotional pictures for a play with the subject matter being what it is is the one that was taken of Irene Pappas and Jenny Lee. I mean they look like Tintoretto classic pictures as beautiful and has really set up a very nice
visual mood. We use that for the newspaper advertising I have to take a photo. Very very beautiful and very beautiful. And it sets what what you might expect from the mood there. And that by the way is always an enormously difficult problem to find. A piece of artwork that in fact expresses truthfully what the play says in it and there has to be Sanct specific. And most of the time I feel that I have failed in finding such a piece of artwork or developing such a piece. This particular one I think is highly successful. Summer in smoke was a marvelous piece of artwork and the balcony I feel very proud of of course the O'Neill on for the Iceman Cometh a marvelous photograph of him in a checkered sweater that was taken by Mrs. O'Neil. Those I think are very good at good
advertising. This is classic and in good taste. One of several problems that are connected with the production that I consider problems and that's what we're going to talk about for a moment with your good graces. Before we interrupt this program that I'm very sure. Yeah the problem of classic theater in an intimate setting. You seem to have taken its toll someone. When we think of the large empty theaters that the Greeks used to have for their performances or when we think of broad acting generally with Shakespearean fare or any other classic there's a physical distance that we are allowed as an audience. And at the same time allows the actors to be quite broad physically and vocally. We have what the circle which is a very
intimate close theater. The classical style of acting if I just can coin that for a moment seems to be overbearing seems to interfere seems to embarrass to be so close to a vocal volume and so close to very good emotions that are being produced. Have you had any. Well I mean and you know if you know I take it you're referring to volume in the play and I think that it has gotten out of hand in some performances you know I mean after all the actors are human and they they are of course watch by the stage manager and I come quite often to see the show. But they do. There are excesses they do. Make it. This is like I mean they make intuitive mistakes
that is very difficult as you know to play a show night after night and to maintain the truth at least on your own terms of what you're doing it's just you sometimes hit a note sometimes do something that is completely off and you don't know why or why you've done it and that's that needs to be corrected one of the problems that we have had in the running of the show has been this question of volume where it has gotten out of hand yes. There are famous confrontation scenes and this specific confrontation scene with Elias and Agamemnon and I'm speaking of the competition scene specifically. That's the one that violates the volume in a way that I don't know whether it's an indiscretion on a night or whether it was planned that way but I would say the volume in the confrontation scene with Agamemnon
pleading for her life. Yes it was. Actual high mark of the directorial efforts there of the acting efforts. This is due to the times I'm talking about this scene now in relationship to all the others because it can be done at the circle and it can get there can be vocal volume within the perspective of the physical surrounding and still achieve reality and meaning. Well let's not misunderstand one another. I mean I do not approve of volume. In the theatre just for the sake of volume. I mean obviously one must be heard and acting must be heard. But that I do not object to very very loud volume at the top of one's lungs if it is. Indigenous to the scene. If it is indigenous to the emotion that the character is responding to or
expressing. When I am critical of the volume per se it's when I feel that the volume is an abstract idea and that it is not indigenous to what's what's going on. And yes I feel I feel that that is but I think it's a technical problem. I mean I think that. The size of the theater the smallness of the room that you live with your wife does not prohibit you from screaming at the top of your lungs when you're angry with her. Right it's terribly embarrassing. There are witnesses. Well to them that's the actor's Agamemnon of men alas should not be aware or any of the actors I characters on a stage are aware of the fact that there is an audience that they should be embarrassed about I mean that they all should be completely removed enlarging on this and moving it I mean away from the specifics of the current production I just want to ask you a broader question
about volume over the years. Let's say that you've been confronted with using circle in the square for various plays and the broader question that I wanted to bring up would be. Is that is it possible that yelling is as a means that an actor chooses to and wear intensity depending on his physical setting would achieve not only the same results but much more effective results through the intensity of what he is emotionally undergoing You know in this you know is I mean whatever the good that results. The question is the sauce and the sauce has to do with the energy and the intensity that the moment justifies. So what I mean in whatever play it is if
it is there may there may be a validity where it is not. There may be situations in certain plays where shouting very loud or high volume is not indigenous and yet is right. Yes because it expresses let's just for an it just for example expresses a neurotic neurotic problem that does in which the character is not. Responding truthfully responding for his own particular reasons neurotic reasons. So this this question is. I mean suffice to say from my point of view that if it's indigenous that may not I don't think that that's quite the right word but I think it is true to the situation. Whatever they source of it can be a whisper can be louder as long as it's true when it's not true I object to it. And if it's I mean when it's not true.
When it is too low when it should be when the truthfulness would take it up a degree higher then it's wrong. Then of course we should be thankful but some actors are still loud whether they're yelling or when it has a lot of ways being my I'm just about Broadway stages. You know I don't think oh well did Royal Hunt of The Sun. You didn't we didn't use any mike. We might be one of the exceptions. From what I read in gather the body mikes now are going to be used more and more like all those movie mine. Yeah there was an interesting article in The Times about why that would be called. Yes well for obvious reasons I think it's also in some way affects the styling of man. Actors because they are special. So I say that unfortunately the miking an actor on stage
is ultimately to the actors detriment. Like it's like a very bad and morally as well know as its architectural hence the hound. Well that means the theater is not being conducted properly and there's absolutely no excuse in any Broadway theater for that to be my king. It's sort of cheating the public really and when I say that for the act yes that's the most important because if you cheat the actor then you cheat the public and it sets in a deterioration of the whole acting scheme. Well happens if the mike goes dead. And he's left. It's on resources he has this but you know they're thinking of miking the Metropolitan Opera also and I think this would be the ultimate payoff. Why do they have a problem with acoustics there. Well the problem is manifold. But that would be another another disastrous I think involvement of technology if you know what Metropolitan Opera singers were might. Well Mike then you might as well just stay home and listen to them like rez on record because
that's I mean the difference between going to a live performance and a recording is the barrier and the mechanism mechanism. Let me ask you another question related to the volume problem Ted and that is the emotional problem this is something that I just want your viewpoint on from your experience in the type of theater that you've had a lot of experience with not just the intimate setting that circumscribe it is and it's it's three quarter round. Do you find that in a in a place such as if where emotions are really at they at that peak from time to time and that this close physical thing to the audience produces. First of all a very difficult situation for the first three rows of the audience that they are privy to
the kind of passion and emotion that it becomes slightly embarrassing to witness. Well in that I don't think that's fair a fair restriction to place on a production or on an actor. In other words the restriction of the problem of the audience individual audience being embarrassed by it of a display of emotion I mean that you have until we come to the point that directorial you can stage the same situation in the same setting and create the perspective or the aesthetic distance needed whereby this emotional catharsis will be that much more witnessed in that much more appreciated. Oh you mean if you tailor it to the non embarrassment of the audience know if you tailor it too. I mean there was a fabulous film that I saw about a brother and sister a Swedish film. I can't remember the name of it it was just last last year and it
was a period piece and it was a beautiful film about the. Relationship of a brother and sister and their fact and love and she has a child who was pregnant by him when she gives birth. It was a shocking scene. Shocked my sensibilities in relation to the birth of the child and the after birth. I was very literal and yet I was shocked by it. But that did not invalidate the use of it it was germane to what they were to what the director was about me because of the film medium presents its own aesthetic distance immediately because it is not confronted with human flesh. Well I mean you would if you were in the room you could have turned away in the movie house you couldn't because there was it was Green years and you said it was
more intimate then you would have allowed if you had been there. Well you could have hid behind a shoulder yes you know coughed at that moment rising. But then we're talking about two different things in one respect. The emotion was not a shocking emotion in that I'm talking about whereas a birth incest U.S. birth is shocking. But I think would you would you're saying you are. Saying which I agree with if I'm correct is that the this this big display of emotion may be disturbing to an audience because they are that close. Yes that's not the closeness the the essence of the problem is is the big emotion truthful. If it is truthful then it's the audiences then the audience see that. I mean the audience can like you to dislike it that is not that is not our problem do it mama date audience our problem is to do things
in this art field as best and as truthfully and honestly as one can. Now that doesn't always happen but when it does. That's your perfect justification you can only do. You cannot go into the heads of every mind of everybody in the audience or into their psyche. You can only do what is not what is proper to you what is truthful to you and consequently not shocking to your own sensibility and move into the corollary of my question we have. And that is and this brings a greater demand on the technique and skill of your actors. Because if they are that close the falseness of an emotion will show that much larger than I mean emptiness of it will. Yes that's right and that's what a lot of that is uncomfortable that's why I see lots of actors like to work in this kind of thing and lots of them. The last technique that an actor has the less he likes to work because he does not wish to.
He likes to be able to hide behind the prissy name are exactly you know what an actor's likeness Pampas welcomes the opportunity it was the sole reason that she came to work at the circle. I mean as one of the primary reasons she came to work at the circle at a great financial personal financial loss to her where she had the choice of doing this or doing a movie for I mean to say 10 times as much and yet it is not quite that is not even enough of the disproportion of what she would have made in the film. Nobody buys and I want to be one of the reasons that she that she wanted to do it is that she wanted that contact with an audience she wanted to be able to just spew it out what it was that she truthfully felt. Do you find a contradiction between this desire and the content of the play. Is there a medium whereby an actor can certainly be intimate and
and as you say spew it out. If the material is suitable for that proximity it would have to take it moment by moment if you're talking about when Clyde or master for example learns that her child is going to be murdered by her husband. I don't think that that's a time for calm emotion you know when she. He confronts her husband Agamemnon and attempts to convince him that he shouldn't and he's stolid and in the unmovable and in fact speech does not utter a word. But that is not the time to be pleasant nor or strikeout pleasant that is not the time to be in control and moderated. That is the time to hit with all that you have as you would know human situation you know I mean as you wouldn't know that situation is no different than a life situation that is a life situation. Let me go to another negative aspect to them but I mean what would happen
if in a similar circumstance one of our leaders was asked to sacrifice his daughter by sending her to Vietnam. To this particular Marine base that's under bombardment now and that is obviously going to be attacked. Therefore it would mean that she would similarly be killed as a as a conflict in a play itself. Well now it was well that's that is the situation in effigy nine now what would the what would the wife if this eminent wife be expected to do be courteous be pleasant with her husband. She would fight and scratch with everything that she has to prevent her child from being sent there and she would not be polite no would she be necessarily quiet. That might be one of the resources that she use. But she will also scream. One of the overall interesting things about Ted Mann and circle in the square that I would say raises you above
Please note: This content is only available at GBH and the Library of Congress, either due to copyright restrictions or because this content has not yet been reviewed for copyright or privacy issues. For information about on location research, click here.
Seminars in theatre
Episode Number
Episode 25 of 31
Producing Organization
WNYC (Radio station : New York, N.Y.)
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, or if you have concerns about this record, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip/500-jh3d3f27).
Series Description
For series info, see Item 3231. This prog.: Ted Mann, co-founder of Circle in the Square Theatre.
Media type
Producing Organization: WNYC (Radio station : New York, N.Y.)
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 68-11-25 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:28:13
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
Chicago: “Seminars in theatre; Episode 25 of 31,” 1968-06-25, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed November 27, 2022,
MLA: “Seminars in theatre; Episode 25 of 31.” 1968-06-25. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. November 27, 2022. <>.
APA: Seminars in theatre; Episode 25 of 31. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from